Home From Home: The Tales Of Italian Clubs Sacrificing Home Advantage In Europe

Inter’s visionary coach Helenio Herrera was a man ahead of his time. In the 1960s, he had been an early adopter of what today is called marginal gains theory. He was amongst the first to recognise and nurture the concept of the twelfth man; the power of the crowd in driving the team onwards and unsettling the opposition. It was one of the factors that contributed to Herrera becoming a double European Cup winner with Inter. 

We look back at the weird and wonderful cases where Italian clubs have been forced to – or have chosen to – sacrifice home field advantage in European competitions… 

Inter Milan 1955-58 and 1958-60 Fairs Cup – Arena Civica, Milan 

Arena Civica had been Inter’s home stadium until they moved to San Siro in the aftermath of the Second World War. Inter continued to use it as a training base and, as the scene of several scudetto triumphs, the venue still held a special place in the hearts of Interisti. 

The Fairs Cup was a forerunner to the Europa League and was initially conceived as a means of promoting international trade fairs. The tournament didn’t always capture the public imagination, and much less so the evening kick-offs, which Italian fans were unaccustomed to. 

On 16th May 1956, Inter’s match with Birmingham City was played at Arena Civica in an attempt to boost the attendance. The experiment was repeated on 10th December 1958 when Inter hosted Lyon in the same competition. That match, the last ever played by Inter at the Arena, resulted in a resounding 7-0 victory for the home side. 

Eddie Firmani for Inter v Lyon, Arena Civica 1958 (storiainter.com)

AC Milan 1957/58 European Cup – Arena Civica, Milan 

A further example involving the same venue came on 11th December 1957 when Glasgow Rangers visited Milan. Thick fog shrouding the city the day before the match had caused Rangers’ plane to divert to Turin. Already facing an uphill battle after a 4-1 defeat in the first leg, Rangers belatedly arrived in Milan after a precarious 3-hour coach journey in swirling mist. 

The decision was taken to switch the match from San Siro to Arena Civica. Out in the suburbs, San Siro was considered more prone to inclement weather than Arena Civica; to maximise the chances of the game going ahead, Milan opted for a change of venue. 

Milan finished the job with a 2-0 victory in front of just 3,000 supporters. 

Arena Civica (calcioengland.com)

AC Milan 1987/88 UEFA Cup – Stadio Via del Mare, Lecce 

Milan’s 1985/86 UEFA Cup campaign had ended in unceremonious circumstances with a 1-2 defeat to Waregem at the last-16 stage. A dubious penalty awarded to the Belgians sparked unrest inside the stadium, which later spilled out onto the streets. The linesman and two police officers required medical treatment in the aftermath.  Milan were handed a two-match stadium ban for their troubles. 

It was another two years before Milan qualified for European competition, so it was the 1987 UEFA Cup games against Sporting Gijon and Espanyol that took place away from Milan. Milan opted to stage the games 1,000km away in the southern city of Lecce, where over 30,000 turned up for both fixtures. 

AS Roma 1988/89 UEFA Cup – Stadio Flaminio, Rome 

In 1988, Stadio Olimpico was in the midst of a makeover ahead of Italia ‘90. Whilst Roma and Lazio used the stadium for the majority of the 1988/89 season, the first game of Roma’s 1988/89 UEFA Cup campaign arrived before the summer’s work had been completed. 

Consequently, the UEFA Cup First Round match against Nurnberg was moved down the road to the architecturally-celebrated Stadio Flaminio. This fixture acted as a pre-cursor to the entire 1989/90 season when Roma adopted Flaminio as their temporary home. Ten-man Roma lost that first game against Nurnberg 2-1 but managed to turn things around in the second leg in Germany. 

Sampdoria 1988/89 Cup Winners Cup – Stadio Giovanni Zini, Cremona 

In a similar vein, construction work was in full swing in Genoa, where Stadio Luigi Ferraris was being razed and rebuilt stand-by-stand. Both Sampdoria and Genoa remained in situ, albeit with diminished capacity, for the duration of the works, except for a handful of higher-profile games. 

Sampdoria began their 1988/89 Cup Winners Cup campaign by using Cremonese’s Stadio Zini as their home (180km north-east). The stadium transpired to be something of a lucky charm for Samp as they navigated past Norkopping and later Dinamo Bucharest before reverting to Genoa for the semi-final. 

Fiorentina 1989/90 UEFA Cup – Stadio Renato Curi, Perugia and Stadio Partenio, Avellino 

Fiorentina led a particularly nomadic life in 1989/90 as Stadio Artemio Franchi was renovated ahead of the World Cup, playing league and cup games in locations such as Perugia, Pistoia, Arezzo and Avellino.  

La Viola began their European campaign by playing home matches at Stadio Renato Curi in Perugia, 150km south of Florence. Fiorentina overcame Atletico Madrid, Sochaux, Dynamo Kyiv and Auxerre on this ground before facing Werder Bremen in the semi-final. 

After securing a crucial away goal in Bremen, the return fixture in Umbria was a tense affair. Emotions in the curva spilled over onto the pitch on several occasions that evening. Objects were thrown from the stands, there were two separate pitch invasions and Bremen’s ‘keeper Oliver Reck was struck by a supporter. Whilst the 0-0 result stood, Fiorentina were ordered to play the home leg of the final against Juventus at a neutral venue located at least 300km away from Florence. 

Fiorentina sought to play the match in Verona, a city where they knew they could rely on local support owing to their twinning with Hellas Verona. However, Verona is only 240km from Florence and was also discounted based on an archaic rule which meant World Cup venues could not stage matches in the 30 days leading up to a tournament. 

Alternatives in Naples, Pescara, San Benedetto del Tronto, Udine, Lecce, Rome (Stadio Flaminio) and even Turin’s Stadio delle Alpi were all considered and then discarded before Avellino was selected as the venue. In doing so, it became perhaps the most unlikely venue to host a major cup final in European football. Sadly for Fiorentina, a 0-0 draw in Avellino was insufficient to turn over the first-leg defeat. 

Juventus 1994/95 UEFA Cup – San Siro, Milan 

The Turin public voted with their feet where Stadio delle Alpi was concerned. Its out-of-town location and poor sightlines meant that even Juventus, a side competing at the very highest level of European football, struggled to fill the venue. 

Just 17,000 had turned up for the UEFA Cup Quarter-Final versus Frankfurt, and even that was an improvement on the paltry 6,000 who had watched the last 16 tie against Admira Wacker. With a potentially lucrative Semi-Final clash against Borussia Dortmund lined up, Juventus took the bold – almost unthinkable – commercial decision to move the home leg to San Siro in Milan. 

It paid off handsomely, with 78,800 witnessing a 2-2 draw in Milan. Juventus finished off the job a fortnight later in Dortmund to set up a two-legged clash with Parma in the Final. The experiment was repeated for the home leg of the final, where an even larger crowd of 80,700 assembled for the all-Italian final. 

Fiorentina 1998/99 UEFA Cup – Stadio San Nicola, Bari and Stadio Arechi, Salerno 

A decade on from their previous sanction, Fiorentina were once again forced to play European matches away from Florence. After a hard-fought 1-1 draw away to Barcelona in the 1996/97 Cup Winners Cup Semi-Final, La Viola capitulated in the return leg, finding themselves two goals down within half an hour. Disappointment turned to frustration as objects rained down onto the pitch from the Curva. As repeat offenders, UEFA handed down a two-match stadium ban to Fiorentina. 

The ban took effect when they next qualified for Europe in the 1998/99 UEFA Cup. Their First Round fixture was moved to Stadio San Nicola in Bari (650km away), where they navigated past Hajduk Split. The Second Round tie against Grasshoppers was staged a mere 500km away, in Salerno. 

However, that game ended in farce. With Fiorentina leading comfortably on aggregate as half time approached, a homemade explosive was thrown at the 4th official, causing him to require hospital treatment. The game was abandoned and the tie was awarded to Grasshoppers. Fiorentina maintain that this was an act of sabotage from Salernitana supporters, who had clashed with Viola fans in Florence a few weeks earlier. 

Atalanta 2017/18 and 2018/19 Europa League – Mapei Stadium, Reggio Emilia 

Atalanta’s plans to renovate the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia had not kept pace with the astronomic rise of the team. The ageing venue was high on nostalgia but low on safety, with the crumbling open terraces at either end of the ground a particular concern for UEFA’s inspectors. 

Whilst the club had just negotiated a deal to buy the stadium from the municipality, an ongoing legal challenge from co-tenants Albinoleffe meant La Dea were reluctant to make investments required to bring it up to scratch. 

Over two seasons, Atalanta played seven matches at the Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia, located nearly 200km south of Bergamo. Atalanta remained unbeaten at the venue, winning five and drawing two against the likes of Everton, Lyon and Borussia Dortmund. 

Torino 2019/20 Europa League – Stadio Moccagatta, Alessandria 

As Torino entered the qualifying round of the Europa League in July 2019, they found their Stadio Olimpico home had already been booked to host a concert. Udinese’s Dacia Arena was initially considered, perhaps to attract a larger away following from Hungarian opponents, Debrecen. 

Ultimately, the heart ruled the head, as the game was staged in Alessandria, the home town of Torino’s President Urbano Cairo. Located 90km east of Turin, the bijou Stadio Moccagatta required planned renovation works to be accelerated to bring the venue up to UEFA standards. 

Torino ran out 3-0 winners in front of a capacity crowd of just over 4,000 people. 

Atalanta 2020/21 Champions League – San Siro, Milan 

By 2020, Atalanta had arrived at the top table of European football; the Champions League. The legal dispute over the stadium had been resolved and the Curva Nord had been completely rebuilt; however, the capacity at the renamed Gewiss Stadium would be restricted to just 16,000 for European matches. 

A bigger competition demanded a bigger stage and Atalanta opted to use the larger and closer (60km) San Siro to host their home games. The ultra groups from Milan and Inter were displeased with the idea of their rivals using the venue. A diplomatic compromise saw the second tier behind each goal – the territory of those ultra groups – left empty. 

In a COVID-disrupted competition, Atalanta made it through to the Quarter-Finals; along the way, they set a new record “home” attendance when 44,000 witnessed a 4-1 hammering of Valencia. 

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, check out our Calcio Travel Notes section for travel advice and stadium guides.

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